In practice, we work hard to improve our physical abilities like footwork, bladework, bouting. As competitive athletes we spend hours during the week trying to perfect our skills. But there is one major component to our game that can be easily overlooked. It’s simple, but may not seem obvious. Yet it is something we need to improve and reenforce it’s strength as much as our leg muscles. What is this thing that is essential to any aspiring fencer?
How is your confidence on the strip? Do you walk onto the piste like you own the place? Do you believe in your capabilities as a competitor? Do you feel that earned the right to stand on that strip with other high level athletes?
While some athletes appear to have a natural sense of self-confidence, many fencers need to work on their self-esteem just as they would work on their footwork. The first step to building your confidence as an athlete is to recognize your own progress. For newer, less experienced athletes this can be tricky. If you aren’t constantly winning bouts it can seem like you aren’t achieving anything substantial at all. This is where it’s important to recognize small improvements.
One way to recognize the work you are putting in is by tracking your progress in training. How consistent are you with attending practices and how focused are you during each session? Keep a record of skills you’ve been working on and you’ll be able to measure your progress. This will help you start to build your sense of confidence. The second part to this is to fully acknowledge your successes (however small you think they may be). Many athletes are perfectionists, and as perfectionists it’s easy to brush off a single good touch as luck. Don’t diminish your own accomplishments, recognize and respect your own hard work.
Knowing that you’ve worked hard in practice will help build your confidence in competition, but it may not be enough. Why? We are always our own worst critic. Even when everyone else is being encouraging and truly believes in you, there can still be that small voice in the back of your mind pushing doubt to the forefront of your thoughts. It’s incredibly annoying and difficult overcome.
Believe in yourself.
It sounds corny to some people but it is true. If you really believe in your ability, the sky is the limit. Of course, it’s difficult to believe in yourself overnight if you have a habit of self doubt. You need to practice believing in your competence as an athlete and individual. Self-affirming statements, like “yes, I can do this” or “I got this!” can go a long way. It may feel strange or silly at first, but until you start believing that you have the ability and the right to compete at a high level, your progress will be limited. If you have a difficult time encouraging yourself, think of what you would say to a teammate who needs that encouragement, but say it to yourself. Eventually, you’ll get used to being positive in your thoughts, like anything else, it just takes practice.